1) You are not God.
The first rule is fairly self explanatory, as are the rest. You are not God, and your voice is not God’s voice. As a part of your discernment- or even before- you have to learn to distinguish the guidance of the Holy Spirit from the guidance of your own desires. Of course, your desires might be in accordance with God’s will, but sometimes they’re not, so you have to be careful.
This also means that you can’t put words in God’s mouth. You can’t try and consider all your options and tell yourself that God would probably choose this one, or that one, or whatever. God has to be the one to tell you. So stop talking and start listening.
On the other hand, though, we have free will. Just because God is calling us toward a particular vocation doesn’t mean we’ll end up doing it. In the end, both marriage and religious life are good things and we can’t go wrong by picking one or the other. One or the other might be a better fit for you, but that doesn’t mean you will live a miserable, purposeless life if you choose the opposite. Both will bring happiness, if you choose it for the right reasons. So listen to God, but don’t freak out if it seems like He’s leaving the choice up to you.
That being said, our heart is formed for one thing or the other. If you know you have a call for a particular vocation, don’t ignore it. You have free will, but God has a will, too. He has a plan, and He wants you to choose it. If you don’t, He’ll alter the plan because He will bring the good out of everything. But that doesn’t mean you are allowed to ignore a vocation when you receive it.
A good way to open yourself to listening to God is physically being in a state in which you can accept His plan. For example, if you’re discerning religious life, you shouldn’t be dating. Make sure you are free and unattached so that there’s nothing to hold you back when you receive your call. (And if you end up getting married after all, you’ll be glad you had to wait to date- all the guys will be much more mature than they were in high school. Hopefully.)
2) Don’t insult God.
Here’s the thing about listening, though. If you don’t ask, you won’t have anything to listen to. If you sit quietly and wait for God to tell you, He’ll just sit and watch you. He can’t give you something unless you are in a position to accept it- unless you’ve asked.
So ask. It’s okay to demand an answer. It’s okay to pray three Hail Marys every night for the sole purpose of receiving a yes/no answer. Don’t insult God by not asking because you think it’s too big to ask of Him. Rather, it’s an honor to Him when you dare to ask for something big.
And if you think you’ve already received an answer through prayer, keep praying. That might seem obvious, but once you get what you want, it’s easy to forget that discernment doesn’t stop after the initial answer. Remember to continue past that- to ask for clarity or confirmation. On the other hand, make sure you’re not just praying because you need something. Do it because you’re thankful that God made you for a special purpose, and didn’t just make you a clone of everyone else.
3) Don’t over think it.
As you’re waiting for an answer, don’t over think. Don’t analyze every little thing that happens until you’re not sure if something is God, coincidence, or imagination. You’ll just make yourself crazy, and you’ll get confused. Like #1 said, one of the most important parts of vocation discernment is the discernment of God’s voice as opposed to your own, the world’s, or the devil’s. If you over analyze everything, you’ll forget the sound of God’s voice.
If you’re really concerned that you’re going to miss the sign you’re waiting for, stop worrying about it. There are certain signs which are dead giveaways, and it doesn’t require intense analysis to discover them. This awesome article (link: Focus ) that I found lists some of the most obvious “symptoms” of a vocation. This is an easy way to see whether marriage or religious life is even an option.
If you find that it is an option, then take the next step. List out pros and cons of you options- which one has more pros? Or, if you’re thinking about different vocations, which one to do gravitate toward and why? Chances are, there will be one that leaves you more satisfied and at peace. Maybe you don’t know which one you prefer until you realize that you’ve chosen the wrong one, but that’s okay. Sometimes you have to be wrong before you can be right.
4) Don’t second guess.
Sometimes I can’t decide what pen to use, so I close my eyes and pick a random one. And then, when I open my eyes, I decide I don’t want that one and I pick a different one- which defeats the entire purpose of what I was doing.
Don’t do that.
When you think you’ve received an answer, go with it. Don’t try and hide from the answer and pick one that you think you like after all. And whatever you do, don’t wait for something else to happen just in case you were wrong. That’s the worst thing you can do, because it will drag the process out forever.
Instead of waiting for something else- some other sign, or whatever you think should be happening- GO. Go and act on the first answer you’ve received. God will tell you if you’re misreading it and it was the opposite answer all along. For a lot of us, acting without being 100% certain sounds like the worst possible idea. But the best vocation discernment advice I ever received is that you will never be absolutely positive. You will never not have doubt. But you have to take the leap of faith anyway, and show your trust in God’s providence.
5) There will always be an answer.
This one isn’t really practical advice, but it’s good to keep in mind. If you keep going back and forth, don’t get frustrated because no matter what happens, it will lead to an answer. Either you’ll find out that one of the options is God’s will for you, or that none of them are. Either you’ll be done searching, or you’ll simply be directed down the next part of the path. But either way, there is a destination.
And remember, “Pray as though everything depended on God. Work as though everything depended on you.” -St. Augustine
By: Mary W.
Just FYI- This post is a condensed version of two separate posts from my own blog, Magnificent Obsession. You can find the full, original versions in my blog’s archives if you’re interested in reading more.